Category Archives: Personal

Subtitles

One of my leisure activities is to screen films in the context of university outreach and a community film club. This blog is about an issue which has come up in that context.

Subtitles or captions are increasingly commonly available on films, particularly those distributed on DVD or Bluray disc. They can be switched on simply to display what is spoken, or they can be descriptive of the sounds generated by action in the film – audio description. This can help viewers who are hard of hearing, profoundly deaf or where the film’s spoken language is not the viewer’s mother tongue. But it is not only these viewers who benefit as this BBC article argued over ten years ago. Others express humorous, but strongly felt views about showing subtitles.

In my current practice,  we show subtitles for foreign language films, since predominantly the viewers’ mother tongue is English – their need is only to understand the words spoken, since most can hear and interpret other sounds.

Of course this is a compromise – the subtitles interfere with the picture, distract us from the action and demand eye movement and concentration when the visual aspect of the film is arguably more important. Nevertheless, we make that compromise in order to comprehend the film.

When we screen English language films, we only show subtitles if they are available and if we think there might be some difficulty in understanding the spoken word. This may be due to actors’ pronunciation, because it is poorly recorded or if there is significant interference from music or sound effects . A good example occurred when screening The Angels’ Share, in which the actors speak with broad Scottish accents.  So we try to make that judgement in advance of the screening on a case-by-case basis.

The problem

Recently, there was a call to show subtitles on English language films in order to welcome deaf and hard of hearing members to screenings. There are over eleven million hearing impaired in the UK (one in six) and this is even more prevalent amongst an elderly population, where more than 40% of over 50 year olds suffer from hearing loss. This proposal met with resistance, with some arguing that it spoilt enjoyment of the film and was not what viewers expected.

So what is the right thing to do?

Alternative solutions

As well as showing subtitles, there are other technical solutions that might help and there is good advice available from a range of sources, for example this from Cinema for All.

In brief, one can install sound-loop systems which amplify specific sounds, feeding them directly to a hearing aid. These cost money to install in the fabric of the building and are most useful to hard of hearing or deaf viewers when there is interference from other sounds. Infra-red transmission to headphones can also achieve this outcome, without the expense of building modifications.

For viewers with English as a second language, who do not need amplification but translation, subtitles can be viewed on a smartphone with specialist equipment to transmit this data. Clearly this means moving the eyes even further away from the action.

Each of these alternatives involve investment and do not cover all viewers’ need, but offer a different compromise. Simply amplifying the film’s sound is not adequate to address the diversity of hearing needs as one blogger points out. The advantage of switching on subtitles on the screen is that it costs nothing – an important issue for amateur organisations, and certainly the best option in the first place.

Mainstream cinema policies

Mainstream cinemas do try to support those who would benefit from subtitles, but arguably by supporting access rather than inclusion. They schedule screenings where subtitles are shown for specific times and these are rarely convenient for those working and don’t make it easy to join in a social event with friends and family. See for example the Odeon’s policy. 

It is also quite difficult to search for such screenings, so going to the cinema becomes a planned activity rather than a spontaneous pleasure.

Finding a subtitled screening

To tackle this problem, the website Your Local Cinema is dedicated to identifying when cinemas are showing subtitled and audio description films for the hearing or sight impaired. It explains the case for screening films with technical support of all kinds to create an inclusive cinema for all. It exhorts cinemas to provide an equal service so that a diverse public can enjoy the cinema experience with family & friends, and it is supported by the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund, UK film distributors (via the FDA) and the British Film Institute.

Through a competition inviting messages about subtitles they have created a list which is worth reading through to get a flavour of the range of experiences and wishes. This is a selection from that site:

“I know quite a few people who, like me, have become disabled in the prime of their lives. I served in Iraq, came home last year with permanent damage to my hearing. I can still enjoy music, it’s just not as clear as it used to be. I find I now read a lot of song lyrics! Never really bothered before. Same with films. I can still enjoy them with a little ‘assistance’. In this case, subtitles. I only go to the cinema now if the film is subtitled. Thankfully most are these days.”

“[my mother] has stopped going to see English language films as, even with hearing aids, she can’t really hear them properly (Also because sound levels fluctuate so much in movies that she has to keep on fiddling with aids). Waiting till something comes out in DVD is really not the same.”

“I think subtitled cinema is great, When i lost my hearing i thought my social life was over but subtitled cinema has proved me wrong!”

“I can honestly say that subtitled cinema has been a dream come true. It’s given me & my mum the chance to share quality time together. She’s profoundly deaf since she was aged four, preventing her from enjoying the cinema (whooping cough took her hearing away).”

“After I saw Inception (with subtitles, of course which I’m very grateful, cheers) I bumped into a friend who was working there at the time told me there was a hearing woman (who went to the same screening as me) made a complaint that there was subtitles on the screen! This totally annoyed me over the fact she did once not think of how lucky she is, that she can come to a cinema to watch any film at any time of any day whereas the rest of us with hearing difficulties has one or two subtitled film per week, sometimes none if those listed films aren’t our cup of tea. (And also why she came to see the subtitled film in the first place anyway, oh deary me!)”

“For years, as a teenager, all my friends would always want to go the cinema, so I’d go along, pretend to know what happened, and laugh when everyone else laughed at something funny.

But now subtitled movies allow me to enjoy watching films with my family and friends. I can talk about what happened in the movie and laugh along with the jokes – not because everyone else laughed! Best invention ever!!”

“”I’m hard of hearing. Subtitles are a godsend when visiting the Cinema, or watching a DVD at home. As a person of a certain age I only wish we had them back in the forties and fifties, when Brando and other Method actors were mumbling their way through various movies!”

“My wife is deaf and finds the high sound levels are useless to her, as is the loop system. I have only praise for the companies involved in producing subtitled facilities – they make the world of difference.”

“Hard of hearing folks without a hearing aid rely heavily on subtitling. Being able to go to the cinema and see a subtitled film really reduces the isolation they live with.”

“I have a friend whom English is her second language so reading the words as they’re said helps teach her the language.”

Conclusion

This issue is problematic and any solution involves compromise. My view is that the compromise of always showing subtitles is worth making in order to be inclusive and reduce social isolation in a small town with no cinema and an ageing population. I have become convinced that this is the best way to welcome the deaf, hard of hearing and those with English as a second language to watch and discuss films with their friends and families.

What do you think? Please feel free to express your views by adding a comment to this article or emailing me directly at richard.millwood@gmail.com.

Eclipse road trip 2017

Great Basin View from I15 near Fillmore, Utah

Great Basin View from I15 near Fillmore, Utah

This is a diary of my Eclipse road trip in August 2017 from Las Vegas to Idaho and back to Las Vegas via many canyons, an eclipse and a visit to my friend Derek in Sedona, Arizona.

I arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday 17th, with plenty of time for the long drive north to Idaho to find a good spot for the eclipse on Monday the 21st. After that, I planned to drive to Sedona to meet Derek and then back to Las Vegas and home.

Thursday 17th – Manchester to Las Vegas to North Rim

I flew to Las Vegas from Manchester at 9:15am, partly to get a good price and also to have the chance the night before to enjoy the company of friends Stephen, Joy & Lily and dine with them and niece & nephew-in-law Sineád & Adam, recently moved to Manchester.

I turned up at a reasonable hour, but neglected to plan accommodation in the US, intending to sleep in the back of the SUV I hired. I was surprised that the check-in desk wanted to know where I was staying in the US, but quickly located a motel and told them that – nobody cared whether it was the truth! I was flying with Thomas Cook on a budget and didn’t expect a meal, but they did serve two and ‘tap water’. You could buy drinks.

As we flew over Canada and the northern mid western states and finally Wyoming and Utah, I could just about work out where we were using Galileo and its offline maps. I had downloaded them earlier in England to help me navigate when I feared that out in the midst of the American West I’d be without a network to access Google maps. The last part of the flight, coming in over Utah, Arizona and into Nevada was really beautiful, although looked scarily desertified and hot – we landed around midday Pacific Time.

Las Vegas McCarran airport has a shuttle bus to the hire car centre, some blocks away, and I hired my SUV and set off to a nearby Walmart to shop for cooking gear and food, water, beer and ice. I got the cheapest sleeping bag for $15 and a foam mattress cover to sleep on for $2 instead of the inflatable bed I’d planned. Other camping purchases include a saucepan, frying pan and propane stove. I got two gallons of water in plastic containers.

Las Vegas Strip reflected in my sunglasses

Las Vegas Strip reflected in my sunglasses

I headed out of La Vegas via the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard and drove north on the interstate freeway I15, passing through the awesome Virgin River Canyon and paused in St George as evening descended, the first of many stops at Walmarts along the way to benefit from their free Wi-fi.

Las Vegas to North Rim

Las Vegas to North Rim

I drove on before finally stopping around 10:30pm along the state highway 89A, just before Jacob’s Lake. I was so tired, I could only drink a beer for supper.

I slept until 2:30am and woke to see the moon rise. With the clock in my head disrupted and feeling wakeful, I decided to drive on to North Rim to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. I had to refuel at Jacob Lake around 3am and arrived at the North Rim visitors’ centre around 4am in the black before dawn. I walked the path to Bright Angel Point in the dark and waited alone to watch the sun rise over the Grand Canyon.

Sun rise at Grand Canyon

Sun rise at Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon lit by sunrise

Grand Canyon lit by sunrise

Walking back, I realised how precipitous Bright Angel Point was, with sheer cliffs either side of the path and at one point a narrow bridge. Take a look at the link above and move the mouse around to shift your view! I suffer a little from fear of heights, and felt a little dizzy and out of breath on return to the car – later I learnt that it was most likely contributed to by the altitude, around 6,000 ft.

I drove back up the beautiful road, seeing wild bison, and then turned off to the East Rim overlook to cook breakfast in the forest.  After eating, I took a short walk to see the East Rim view over the Grand Canyon: behind me, a delightful alpine scene of forest, meadow, deer and antelope; before me, a flat desert plain scarred by the Colorado River’s canyon cut-in deep, dark and devilish looking.

East Rim Overlook

East Rim Overlook

Friday 18th – North Rim to Ogden

Rested and well fed,  I started the drive back through Jacob Lake and then Fredonia, Kanab and to visit Bryce Canyon.

North Rim to Ogden

North Rim to Ogden

Unlike the North Rim, Bryce Canyon was heaving with tourists and I parked and took the shuttle bus around to the viewpoints, again feeling the thinness of the air at around 8,000ft.

Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point

Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point

 

It was a most dramatic scene, demanding many photographs.

The road back from Bryce Canyon went through Red Canyon, remarkable by the standards of any other place, but overshadowed here:

Red Canyon panorama

Red Canyon panorama

Then north through Panguitch and across for the I15 to Salt Lake City and Ogden, reached in the dark, where I stopped, exhausted. I found a quiet place next to the freeway on an old main road at junction 341 on the I15 with West 31st Street and slept as long as I could.

Saturday 19th – Ogden to Forest Road 142, Mackay, Idaho

Waking again to the moon rise, now a slim crescent, I drove on.

Ogden to Forest Rd 142 Mackay Idaho

Ogden to Forest Rd 142 Mackay Idaho

Short of Pocatello, I took a turn to look for a breakfast spot and found myself in the South Mink Creek and stopped in the Slate Mountain trailhead car park to make breakfast and read a book for an hour.

Back on to the I15 and through Pocatello, I visited the Shoshone-Bannocks tribes’ museum at Fort Hall, notable for the abstract patterns on the Native American art:

Shoshone-Bannocks museum example of Porcupine Quillwork

Shoshone-Bannocks museum example of Porcupine Quillwork

Through Blackfoot, where I turned north west on the US26, I crossed the Snake River plain and passed Atomic City. This small village was built to house the scientists operating the many nuclear research establishments scattered widely over this desert plain as part of the Idaho National Laboratory. I visited  the EBR-1 nuclear reactor museum near Arco which was the first Uraniam breeder reactor to generate electricity.

Four famous light bulbs lit on Dec 20 1951 proving the potential for nuclear power

Four famous light bulbs lit on Dec 20 1951 proving the potential for nuclear power

Filled up with petrol in Arco, I drove up past Mackay and its reservoir, an area I had scouted out on Google street view, but it was already pretty busy, so I drove on and turned off towards the hills on the west side of the valley. After seeing Ospreys with fish in their talons by the side of the road, I discovered a track and stopped to ask two men in camouflage clothing where it went.  They turned out to be hunting with bow and arrow and advised me it would lead to the top and that there would be good camping spots there.

They were absolutely right – I drove up and found an excellent camp site in the shade of some pine trees and set about eating dinner. I had established my eclipse camping spot a day earlier than I had left time for, so felt really pleased to get some good rest and enjoyed the sunset illuminating the Lost River mountain range to the east across the valley, which included Borah Peak, the highest mountain in Idaho at 12,661 ft.

Lost River mountain range sunset

Lost River mountain range sunset

Sunday 20th – day of rest

After a good sleep, I still woke up early and watched the moon rise – so thin now as it neared the sun that it was almost invisible.

After breakfast, I walked along the road and then sat down to read Analogue Mountain, a gift from friend Doireann for Derek, but here I was with nothing to read and a day to fill!

For some reason a little later I discovered that the car wouldn’t start – the battery had run down. I blamed the sidelights.

After much worrying and thinking – I was a good way off the road and from the nearest habitation – I decided to make a sign to invite help. Every hour or so, a vehicle might pass on its way further in to the forest – there may have been as many as 12 people camping within a mile or two of me by the time of the eclipse.

Flat battery sign

Flat battery sign

The first encounter was with two quad bikers who couldn’t help, but promised to pass on the message.

Then a Mercedes van stopped and Dan Stempien got out, full of good cheer and had the jumper leads needed to start the car. Phew.

He travelled, lived and conducted his work in the summer months from his converted van. He was pleased to have found a mobile signal, with the help of an extra arial on the roof, which meant that he decided to camp next to me – welcome company.

A generous soul, he also gave me a spare pair of eclipse spectacles to watch with the next day.

Me and Dan waiting for the eclipse

Me and Dan waiting for the eclipse

Later, four other friendly eclipse watchers from Salt Lake City came along to say hi to us as their ‘neighbours’ and we enjoyed a discussion of stars and constellations over a drink.

Monday 21st – eclipse day

I was up early to watch the sun rise – no sign of the moon!

After breakfast, Dan and I watched the eclipse together and agreed it was both fantastic and emotional. The reduction in light and warmth as we watched the sun being ‘eaten’ was remarkable, perhaps exaggerated by the mountain top location. At totality, I was surprised that I could see the photosphere (atmosphere) of the sun with its coronal flares so comfortably and so brilliantly. The moment of the ‘diamond ring’ was phenomenal, a genuine jolt of adrenaline and cheers and whoops where audible from our neighbours, who were at least a mile away on another hilltop.

Me trying to photograph totality

Me trying to photograph totality

I set off for Sedona shortly later, finding modest queues as I exited the valley to Arco. Traffic was light until arriving in Blackfoot, where I mistook the northbound I15 slip road to Idaho Falls for the entrance to Walmart, so wasted time finding the next exit back to Blackfoot and to Walmart to pause and connect to the internet. Traffic on the I15 south was so bad that getting out of Blackfoot proved very slow and so I drove on side roads to avoid the masses. Eventually it picked up and I drove until nightfall to the same spot in Ogden, just North of Salt Lake City, that I had slept in on the way north.

Forest Rd 142 Mackay Idaho to Sedona

Forest Rd 142 Mackay Idaho to Sedona

I didn’t sleep long and woke in the night, deciding to drive on. This was premature, and I had to stop again just south of Salt Lake City to sleep some more.

Tuesday 22nd Salt Lake City to Sedona

I woke early and drove on, stopping to breakfast just off the I15 outside Fillmore, and then visited the statehouse museum in the city (town).

Territorial Statehouse State Park Museum in Fillmore

Territorial Statehouse State Park Museum in Fillmore

The museum had interesting original artefacts and explanations of the history of Mormon settlement and Native American relations in the early days. Particularly miserable to hear of the slave trading undertaken by a local chief, and his burial, which entailed the slaughtering  of his two wives and his favourite horses to lie in his burial site with him. Also the staking of a young Indian child to district wolves from desecrating the grave. Shocking.

I then drove on a bit and stopped to visit the Kolob Canyons – remarkable rocks.

Next to Jacob Lake again and more petrol before descending the East Rim of the Grand Canyon and visiting Marble Canyon and the Navajo bridge as the sun was going down.

Marble Canyon

Marble Canyon

Then a long drive to Flagstaff, passing mile after mile after mile of Vermillion Cliffs and seeing many Native American homes and villages. In Flagstaff, I paused to connect with the Airbnb host for the place where I was to stay in Sedona, and tell Derek I was an hour away, before driving down to Sedona. Derek met me outside the house I rented and we eat takeaway and locally brewed beer and had a good talk before a much needed sleep.

Wednesday 23rd – Sedona

Derek came round in the morning and we went to buy a pass to visit sites in Sedona and breakfast in a nice cafe with traditional Mexican food.

We visit the ruined Sinagua dwellings in the Palatki Heritage Site and a grotto with cave paintings and a house built by a more recent settler who planted fruit trees in the canyon. We returned to drink in a lovely cafe and talk about micro worlds.

Later we visited Derek’s mum, talked butterflies and then went to sit on a rocky platform near Chimney Rock, not far from where I was staying, and enjoyed the sun set, talked about Derek’s condition and made a video for the Italian teachers in Urbino, who we were missing.

Derek and the sunset

Derek and the sunset

Finally, we enjoyed a delightful meal at the Mariposa (butterfly). A real pleasure to have such quality time with Derek.

Thursday 24th

Set off at 6:20 to drive to Las Vegas, with a brief visit to the Hoover Dam. Cool and rainy for the first time, flight home uneventful.

I drove 2,332 miles all told.

Women in Film

In the university at which I am currently employed, Trinity College Dublin, some enterprising staff have organised a free course titled ‘Women in Film’. Over ten weeks or so, academic enthusiasts present a film each week which they feel illuminates that theme. I proposed two, hoping that one might be chosen, but both were accepted and then found myself filling in a gap for an indisposed colleague to make it three – this blog is derived from my notes and presentation to the audiences.

women-in-film

I saw the first two of these three films in the same weekend just before Christmas 2015 by complete chance:

  •   ‘Woman in Gold’ at the Little Baddow film club in Essex, England – I went to meet and help my friends with the event;
  •   ‘Camille Redouble’ at the French Town Twinning Association in Brentwood Essex – I was their technician!

In each case, I had no part in the choice nor any knowledge beforehand of what I was to see, but I felt they both had interesting concerns about being a woman, addressing lifetime change and exploring the contradictions between past potential and present condition.

The third ‘Trois Couleurs: Bleu’ is perhaps the film I most enjoy of all films, having first seen it perhaps twenty years ago – the chance to show it at short notice was willingly seized.

Woman in Gold

Screened 28th January 2016

In ‘Woman in Gold’, Helen Mirren plays a strong older woman lead, telling the story of someone who has lived through some of the most wicked acts of the 20th century – the Kristallnacht and consequent theft of Jewish assets, and the flight of Jews from Nazi persecution and death.

The film has mixed reviews.

My reaction was a certain sense of misguided moral compass – what is the meaning of ownership of great works of art and is it properly answered by this film?

Did this film pass the Bechdel test? –  “at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man”? The test is claimed to be an indicator for the active presence of women in films and other fiction, and to call attention to gender inequality in fiction due to sexism. I didn’t spot it, despite the film featuring at least three strong women.

Finally, is it enough for a film to be carried by a first class actor, offering a compelling and exciting characterisation?

Camille Redouble

Screened 11th February 2016

Camille Redouble’, directed and starring Noémie Lvovsky, follows a familiar plot device of time transport back to teenage years and reappraisal of life based on the re-confrontation with earlier life decisions and events.

‘Peggy Sue Got Married ‘, ‘Big’ and 200 other films, according to Wikipedia, feature time loops or travel, so this is a well-worn path.

But, typical of french film, the story is told more naturally, humorously but not forced and ends in a more interesting and realistic manner. I felt it relevant to the Women in Film series because it didn’t portray women in the way Hollywood so often does.

Does this film pass the Bechdel test? It did, but it also certainly passed the ‘Millwood test’ for a good film  – ‘did I like any character and begin to care about them’ – I liked them all.

Trois couleurs: Bleu

Screened 25th February 2016

Trois couleurs: Bleu’ forms the first part of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy ‘Trois Couleurs’, which addresses the French flag and motto – liberté, égalité, fraternité. Bleu‘s theme is liberté. Colin McCabe, in a Criterion Collection essay proposes that

“…what Kieslowski had achieved in these films marked a cross-fertilization of the two great postwar European cinemas that could never be surpassed. He  had composed the hymn to Europe…”.

But Kieslowski’s purpose is not to pursue politics, instead it is to explore the interleaving of human lives, coincidences, and the individual challenges faced in overcoming great tragedy. In this sense, ‘Bleu’ has a lot in common with both ‘Woman in Gold’ and ‘Camille Redouble’

It begins with a car crash, setting an unbearable challenge to Julie (Juliette Binoche) as she encounters a disastrous form of liberté, shaped by one question : how to continue living when all ties are broken.

Filmed with remarkable cinematography, thrilling music and a delightful, sparse intensity, the story addresses some of the accommodations women must confront due to significant loss, discovered adultery, maternity, sexual promiscuity, a fractured relationship, Alzheimers and a musical Matilda Effect (the systematic repression and denial of the contribution of woman scientists in research, whose work is often attributed to their male colleagues). As Julie navigates these issues, her growing generosity and engagement with creativity and life is uplifting, and the ending is deeply moving with its vital optimism and hymn to enduring love.

A theme which is explored throughout Kieslowski’s trilogy, is the reunification of Europe. The connection between Poland and France, at that time perhaps the leading nations in art cinema, is personified by Juliette Binoche herself who has Polish origins. I find it hard to recall just how things were in the early ’90s, when such countries were only recently reconnected after being on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain for forty years or so, but I did feel excitement.  In ‘Bleu’ the choral music is an anthem to the unified European ideal, which was so vitalising and influential at the time of the film’s making in 1993. In a parallel with the negotiation involved in making a new Europe, the process of composition to complete the music takes place in the film itself.

All this is sadly apposite in the current circumstances of ‘Brexit’ inspired by Little Englanders in my own home country of England. For me, as a committed European, the unutterable loss that Julie endures, and overcomes, is perhaps a metaphor for my own prospective loss with an impending referendum on leaving the EU, all thanks to that other car crash known as Cameron and his Conservative cronies.

Juliette Binoche

What about Juliette Binoche? It is hard for me to guess how others, men and women, react to her, but for me she is without compare, not for her sexuality, but for her powerful sense of moral compass and serene beauty. Her own discussion about involvement in the making of the film touches on a central concern for women actors – how is the film to portray women’s position? Binoche, in her discussion about the possibility of gratuitous nudity, says: “You feel like an object. You no longer feel like a subject”, explaining how the media so often misinterpret her acting as a result. And yet she is generally content to see her body used as a vehicle for communicating the director’s intent. With “Bleu” she describes a happy and relaxed relationship with Kieslowski, who seems to be concerned that she does not suffer indignities, even reportedly flying into a rage when Binoche proposes to cut her knuckles for one rather harrowing scene.

Binoche-Gyllenhaal

Just two nights before showing ‘Bleu’, by chance, I watched Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Demolition’ as part of the Dublin International Film Festival. ‘Demolition’ arguably parallels much in ‘Bleu’, starting with a car crash which kills Gyllenhaal’s partner, but with a quite different sensibility and rather less ambition. Indeed ‘Demolition’ might well fit into a ‘Men in Film’ course: the camera lingers on Gyllenhaal’s face and body for much of the time, but I suspect the media will see it as great acting rather than exploitation of his undoubtedly handsome face and body!

In both films, in truth, I didn’t once doubt the director’s intent – to make the best possible use of the sophisticated collaboration between actors, crew and director, and their profound artistry.

I recommend all these (films, directors, actors and crew) to you without reservation and thank the organisers of the Women in Film series for the opportunity to indulge myself. The opportunities and coincidences that lead to this particular set coming together would have had Kieslowski smiling.

Heaven

On Friday, I left my meeting in London and set off from Liverpool Street Station to Essex (the only way is Essex, I live in Brentwood).

“It was as if the daylight had changed with unnatural suddenness, as if the temperature of the evening had altered greatly in an instant or as if the air had become twice as rare or twice as dense as it had been in the winking of an eye; perhaps all of these and other things happened together for all my senses were bewildered all at once and could give me no explanation.”

from the The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)

I didn’t get out at my usual stop, but instead the train continued towards Southend and I disembarked (thanks Sasha) at Southend Airport.

Had I fallen asleep on the journey? Was I in a dream?

I got on a plane to Dublin and found myself inveigled into a secret-service plot to surprise my friend Boyd for his birthday. A black limousine met me at the airport with good friend, colleague and Boyd’s partner Eileen and Tom ‘No. 1 son’, who whisked me to a pub to mark time with Eileen’s old friends (and a Guinness). Then we collected Zac ‘Besty’ (George Best? Animal? or simply the best?) and finally we hid in Findlater in Howth to await the birthday boy. Hosted by Sabine, we enjoyed a fantastic sea-food skillet and laughed and lived our love of family. Aoife offers me a bed for the night and she and I have a cracking conversation long past my bed time.

A very good dream indeed.

Saturday, like in all my best dreams, was spent at a stimulating Association of Teachers’ / Education Centres’ numeracy conference, re-connecting with Eileen Two and meeting the vibrant Dolores Corcoran (where were you Elizabeth?). I guess I should have been suspicious of the conference title – ‘Does it All Add Up?’

Later the birthday party continued with Boyd and Eileen’s neighbours and friends – more cracking conversation and such warm, good people.

Boyd's birthday

Boyd blows out the candles watched by Eileen, Tom and Chantal

Food from Joan (now known as Jo-an-issima) was spot-on, with the shiniest cutlery and glasses. Sing-songs and good company. Shared a brilliant falling star with Aoife and I had to be taken home by the delightful Nessa. It’s not usual to sleep in dreams and I didn’t sleep much before Sunday morning. On waking to a dawn over Dublin Bay, I am off in another limo, to the airport, to fly to London Gatwick.

Dublin Bay

Dublin Bay and Howth at dawn

I then enter another level of dream – ‘in transit’ – like the novel by Brigid Brophy, that I marvelled at as teenager. Vana arrives and we work on categorising future trends in TEL before a flight to Turin, Italy.

We meet Katherine, who drives us to Pollenzo in Bra, to L’Agenzia di Pollenzo ‘si fa in quattro’ the international headquarters of ‘slow food’. The ‘quattro’ are our hotel Albergo dell’Agenzia also housing Guido Ristorante Pollenzo, the Banco Vino (wine bank) and best of all, the University degli  Studi Scienze Gastronomische (University of Gastronomic Sciences) – “the first academic institution to offer an interdisciplinary approach to food studies”. The whole campus is built on part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of King Carlo Alberto’s 1835  Savoy Estate, which in turn is built on the Roman town of Pollentia.

Universita degli Studi Gastronomische

Universita degli Studi Gastronomische

I sit down to dinner with Vana and Katherine:

antipasto – Sformato di verdure con crema di Roccaverano

primo – Tajarin al sugo di salsicca di Bra

secondo – Brasato al Barolo con patate al forno

dolce – Panna Cotta

with a powerful Barbaresco from close by, and we speak all night of creativity.

wine and panna cotta

Barbaresco wine from the local region and Panna Cotta

In this heavenly dream, I wonder how did I deserve or manage such a dreamy, surreally wicked dream weekend, at such times in higher education…

“…with the drink trade on its last legs and the land running fallow for the want of artificial manures” ?

from the The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)

I began to realise, unlike the narrator in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, who doesn’t know he is in hell, that I must be in heaven and that I passed in my sleep on the train from Liverpool Street.

 

Old lobster almost boiled

Learning on the Beach 2011

The second annual Learning on the Beach unconference #lob11 has just scattered – I am blown away, boiled, invigorated and inundated – and that was just the weather. We were a self-select group of ‘old lobsters’ like me @richardmillwood and some fresh faces like @squiggle7 – the value of this mix in challenging the norms of indoor education was enormous.

Activities included:

  • a scene setter on flat-lining and free-learning from John Davitt
  • collaborative presentations by teams of participants on themes (and genre) as diverse as Irish History (sing-song), The Salt Marsh (tragedy) and Tides (rap)
  • a tour of the beach with Seán and Matthew to understand the nurturing approach to the ‘machair’ or sand dunes found on the west coast of Ireland and particularly in Mulranny, where we were staying
  • the Explainer Olympics – a chance to hone with a sharp stick in the sand our skills in capturing a concept
  • a Ceilidh to let it rip -thanks to Jim and Ann, @angedav @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @magsamond @johndavitt
  • Postcards from the Edge, scribed on the beach – to let us shout about our findings
  • thoughts to challenge suppliers – what do we need to support learning outdoors in the design of equipment and infrastructure? Peter at @westnet_ie made it possible for us to connect from the beaches around Mulranny so that we could benefit from our vast array of gadgetry to support our inquiry including TouchaTag an RFID technology, but there were many issues addressed regarding weatherproofing, robustness, daylight viewing and power supply that would enhance outdoor activity anywhere
  • hot tub, sauna, steam room, cold plunge and swimming pool – four facilities that were welcome 😉
  • the sharing of Guinness, Google, kindness, camera-derie, Twitter, time, humour and happiness ( to say nothing of black and white pudding, fresh air and fine rain)

There are not enough wild sea-horses to hold me back from attending #lob12  – I already miss the lobsters: @squiggle7 @magsamond @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @andyjb @dughall @VickiMcC @johnmayo @johndavitt @angedav @katherinedavitt @timrylands @sarahneild @susanbanister

A Short History Offline

Becta have just published the article they commissioned me to write about the history of educational computing. I enjoyed writing it – after all, I have been very active in the field since 1977, so much of it is from the heart.

1989 - planning multimedia on a chalk board
Alan Edis, Richard Millwood, David Riley & Colin Smith of the Computers in the Curriculum Project plan a multimedia CD-ROM on a chalk board in 1989 at Kings College London

But its real purpose is to try and bring some kind of coherence to a complex story and thus to create the hindsight analysis which can help us use the National Archive of Educational Computing as a storehouse for insightful & inventive design, deployment and application for the future of learning with technology.

If you want to help this venture, please sign up to support the archive or even better, tell your story.

Wrong phrases that sound right II

Ear

I blogged about this first a long time ago – people invent the phrase they think they heard, and their version has elements of ‘truth’ which are interesting:

‘without further adieu’ instead of ‘without further ado’

‘it isn’t a job for the feint hearted’ instead of ‘it isn’t a job for the faint hearted’

‘arranged eroticly’ instead of ‘arranged erratically’

‘top-draw collection’ instead of ‘top-drawer collection’

‘evil.com mascaraed as bank.com’ instead of ‘evil.com masquerading as bank.com’

‘to achieve the up-most pinnacle’ instead of ‘to achieve the utmost pinnacle’

Blu-Ray Christmas

Blu-ray disc
This was the year for me to invest in High Definition television and I decided on the Sony KDL-V3000 + Playstation 3 (PS3) – a combination Argos were doing a deal on. I wanted the PS3 anyway as the best value Blu-Ray player on the market, and the deal was extraordinary value for money. I am delighted with the outcome, surprisingly, because the sensitivity of the digital freeview tuner in the Sony TV has made terrestrial digital a possibility with weak reception. But what is really outstanding is the way standard DVDs are ‘upscaled’ to look brilliant on the combination of PS3 and Bravia display, and I still haven’t seen a Blu-Ray disc yet! The one downside is it exposes anything poorly recorded/encoded. The PS3 may also be the last moving-parts physical storage media for TV I buy – some think I am already investing in the walking dead ! Meanwhile I am enjoying finding out how The PlayStation 3 is not just a games console… too.

Ideas that can change the world

Ideas that can change the world

Went with Patrick to this excellent meeting of young and old minds. We spoke to Cameron (8) who told us his ideas for a “mp3 and mp4” player so that he wouldn’t get bored when avoiding his younger brother! It reminded me that changing the world starts small, and visions of what’s important are close to home as well as global.

Royal College of Music and Royal Ballet School collaboration

RCMJD musicians and RBS dancers

I was privileged to attend this event at the Royal Ballet School. It was performed by musicians and dancers of their own joint works. I was most impressed by the sophistication in both music and dance and the articulate way they explained their own challenges in collaboration against real deadlines in the discussion afterwards.

I could never have imagined that this was what Sasha would be confidently doing in 2007, when, ten years earlier aged 5, he set out on a musical career.

Adrian Mitchell at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Adrian Mitchell

A real pleasure to hear some outstanding poetry read by the poet in the intimate surroundings of this long-established theatre – a real credit to the town of Bolton. I am not well-read in poetry, but have come to enjoy it substantially in middle-age and Adrian’s material had me excited and tearful in short shrift. You can find him stubbornly reciting ‘Tell me lies about Vietnam’ from thirty years ago on Youtube, but this still scathing poem was scornfully delivered by an energetic 75-year old on Thursday night.